You cannot appropriate Gods

Isis Statue

People who claim that worshiping Gods outside your culture or ethnicity is “appropriation” are, quite simply, ludicrous individuals, often crypto if not blatant atheists, whose “metagenetics” or “racialist” view attempts to posit that the divine limit Their interactions with “foreigners” outside of “the race.” This stance can be understood as atheism because it denies that the Gods are real, independently existing entities with agencies of Their own who may engage in personal relations with people by engaging in a materialist reductionism (itself an offshoot of monotheism) which reduces the Gods to merely archetypes of “the race”– ridiculously binding the Gods as subject to a materialist social construct developed by imperialists during the Colonial era, far after most polytheisms were destroyed by many of the same powers. Deities are not mere culture nor objects– They are real, living and eternal Beings who may reveal Themselves to and call upon us to worship Them, and thus They cannot be appropriated. To deny religious experience and denounce true devotion, especially when that deity has asked for it and initiated the personal relation with the devotee, is simply atheism. “Appropriation of Gods” is not an actual issue, but rather, the real problem is the appropriation of specific cultural systems of worship such as sacred rites, methods, attire, and traditions centered around these living immortals.

I call this the “appropriation of spaces,” a term coined by Twitter user āṅgīrasa śreṣṭha (GhorAngirasa, 14 April 2018 6:11 PM). Yes, while there are spaces which are open and “amenable to manipulation and the introduction of novelties” (GhorAngirasa, 14 April 2018 6:11 PM), there are also spaces which are closed, such as mysteries specific to a particular culture or instructions which are not intended for all.

Of course, one could create their own space by thoroughly localizing the worship of a God, with local iconography, rites, liturgy, and so on, while leaving the source intact without any problem. We can see something similar in the Hellenic world, with how foreign deities such as Isis were adopted and given distinctly Graeco-Roman cultus’, or in Japan, with the adoption of various Hindu deities such as Saraswati or Indra. However, a foreign devotee cannot, for example, go to a traditional temple and ask the priest there to provide an untraditional offering to a deity because that’s what they are used to– however, they are more than free to do so at their “own home or some other privately bought/hired space” (GhorAngirasa, 14 April 2018 6:39 PM).

Likewise, simultaneously, if one wishes to worship a God in a known traditional form, using traditional rites, traditional liturgies, traditional iconography, etc., then that isn’t a problem either. There are many traditions which accept converts, even if there are preconditions one must meet before joining– but even if they are not, then the words of doctor Edward Butler, “nobody can stop me worshiping any God I like, if I’m not demanding some kind of recognition in a space which is closed to me or closed without certain preconditions I’m not willing to fulfill” (EPButler, 14 April 2018 6:54 PM). You can worship whatever Gods you choose and never be accused of committing cultural appropriation, as long that it’s in private space, and not some performative act in the eyes of the public. In this case nobody needs to know what deities you worship and how, and if you do need to talk about it in public, then “the charge of appropriation might well have something to it” (EPButler, 11 July 2016 3:47 PM).

 

(Special thanks to Edward Butler, āṅgīrasa śreṣṭha, Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa and Tamara L. Siuda)

 

Bibliography

EPButler. Twitter Post. July 11, 2016, 3:47 PM. https://twitter.com/EPButler/status/752635429892005892

EPButler. Twitter Post. April 14, 2018, 6:54 PM. https://twitter.com/EPButler/status/985335409864568832

GhorAngirasa. Twitter Post. April 14, 2018, 6:11 PM. https://twitter.com/GhorAngirasa/status/985324595187257344

GhorAngirasa, Twitter Post, April 14, 2018 6:39 PM. https://twitter.com/GhorAngirasa/status/985324595187257344

Ptahmassu, Twitter Post, April 15, 2018, 12:37 PM. https://twitter.com/Ptahmassu/status/985602916223512576

tamarasiuda, Twitter Post, April 14, 2018 7:27 PM. https://twitter.com/tamarasiuda/status/985343850024767488

tamarasiuda, Twitter Post, April 14, 2018 7:29 PM. https://twitter.com/tamarasiuda/status/985344337767817216

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Julian: The Light in the Darkness

Many years before, a man was made deputy of Western Rome on behalf of the Emperor. When the man first arrived to his newly appointed office a woman cried out “This is the man who will restore the temples of the Gods!” [1]

The man was in shock, for he was not a Galilean as his uncle Constantine the Apostate or his mother Basilina were. For this man was Julian, a Hellene. For now he was in the closet, but even though he did not know it yet, he would one day animate the woman’s word.

Now just over half a decade later, Julian received the news he wanted to hear. He swiftly begun to draft a letter to his friend Maximus of Ephesus who introduced him to the very Gods that his family abandoned decades ago.

“I worship the Gods openly and the whole mass of the troops who are returning with me worship the Gods.” penned the new Augustus, “I sacrifice oxen in public. I have offered many great public sacrifices to the Gods as thanks offerings. The Gods command me to restore Their worship in the utmost purity and I obey Them, yes and with a good will” [2].

Julian sat down his writing utensil, his hands trembling in excitement. He looked to the heavens and the Gods gave him a warm smile. Like a lighthouse guiding a ship in a storm, they led Julian on the right path and landed him on the purple. The civil war that erupted across the Empire had ended just as fast as it had begun, a bloodless conflict. Julian’s cousin, the now-deceased Emperor Constantius II who had ruled arbitrarily, the very man who years ago murdered Julian’s own father and brother, was dead, having received Thanatos’ cold embrace in a fever far away from any battlefield. Julian, the Caesar of the West, was now recognized as ruler of the East. Julian was now the sole ruler of Rome.

No longer did he have to shave. No, now he was newly bearded, with all the grace of youth. No longer did he attend a mass to listen to the sermons of a bishop. No, now he publicly embraced the message of Heracles, the begotten son of the sun. No longer did he scribe for someone else’s church. No, now he wrote for his Gods, his philosophy and his temples. In his heartfelt gratitude to the Gods who he felt love for like the family he never had, Julian legalized temples to be built again and public sacrifice to be performed once more. Hellenism was to be made the state religion of Rome again, and with the utmost piety.

Julian entered the capital city of where he was born on December 11, 361 ACE through its Golden Gate as sole Augustus of the Roman Empire. The atmosphere was dreamy and energetic. He could hear the cries of joy coming from his people, who appeared en masse to cheer their new Emperor on.

Temples were constructed and great rituals were performed. He reformed the faith and devoutly organized it. He wrote great literature and sang hymns of praise to the Gods. He both refurbished the Oracle of Delphi and even begun helping the Jewish people rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem. For this is the man who was going to restore the temples of the Gods.

But his time was cut short. After a failed campaign against an aggressive Persia at his country’s borders, he was mortally wounded on June 26th and laid semi-conscious in bed for three days [3]. He was to die too young to fix the world before it would stop making sense. The light in the darkness was to fade.

An Oracle came before the semi-conscious Emperor who laid in bed. “A fiery chariot whirled among storm-clouds shall carry you to Olympus; loosed from the wretched suffering of men” spoke the wise priest, “You shall attain your Father’s halls of heavenly light, whence you have fallen and come into the body of a mortal man” [4].

It was June 28th that he was too greeted by a now-somber Thanatos. Serapis came before the dying Emperor and freed Julian from his corporeal bonds. The gentle God lifted Julian’s soul towards the Islands of the Blest; Elysium-bound, through a divine ray of light towards henosis. Helios, the King of All, hugged Julian with warm embrace.

 

“Whom the Gods love die young.”

-Menander

 

Notes

  1. Ammianus, 15.8.22
  2. Flavius Claudius Iulianus, I 25
  3. Philostorgius, 7.15
  4. Smith 1995, 113
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Paganism: It’s not about “Rusticity”

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Some people will try to co-opt the word Pagan and try to define it as being “Nature-Centric,” ostensibly using academia to prove the word “Paganism” has always meant “nature-centric spirituality” via etymology. Not only do these people ignore how their contemporary understanding of “nature” is itself embroiled in Romanticist-era reactionism to urbanization and Protestant overculture, but they hold a profound misunderstanding on the word’s etymology in the context that they’re trying to use it in. And to correctly understand the Latin word’s usage, we must look to the Greek language.

In the Greek New Testament, the Pagan peoples, those ascribing to pre-Christian religions, are called ta ethnē, “the nations” (Luke 24:47, Matthew 25:32, Matthew 28:19). As such, religions of “the nations” were deemed ethnikos, as pertaining to a nation, in opposition to katholikos, “catholic” or “universal,” like Christianity. In English translations of the New Testament, the word ethnē often gets translated as “Gentiles.”

But in the Latin West, the term Paganus was coined in the religious sense by Christians in Late Antiquity. The term paganus, coming from Latin pagus, “district,” also relates to the idea of nationhood. This word continued in the French word pays, meaning “a nation” or “country.”

The “rustic” angle has been overworked by contemporary Pagans who want to justify the notion of paganisms as “earth religion.” The Latin Paganus is the equivalent of the Greek ethnikos. The argument that Christians were calling pagans “rustic” doesn’t make sense because Christians never placed much value in classical education nor on “civilization,” which were worldly and sinful. Early Christians often warned about the vanity of worldly learning, the dangers of reading too many books, etc. After all, the lives of the saints are all about people turning their back on civilization to live simply. “Rustic” is hardly an insult which fits into that worldview, and examples of it are seen plainly in Tertullian, the “father of Latin Christianity,” who wrote that “heresies are themselves instigated by philosophy,” and that “What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? What between heretics and Christians? Our instructions come from “the porch of Solomon,” who had himself taught that “the Lord should be sought in simplicity of heart.” Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition! We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus, no inquisition after enjoying the gospel! With our faith, we desire no further belief” (Tertullian The Prescription against Heretics, Chapter 7).

At most, the word “Pagan” may have been used in the sense of what modern evangelists call the “unreached,” i.e., people who supposedly haven’t even heard the gospel because they are “so removed from society” or “out of touch.” However, it was more likely used to mean people who refuse the “universal faith” and stick to their particular “ethnic” Gods. The “cosmopolitan” in Late Antiquity, even if not in a certain sense, was likely to have been a “Hellene,” i.e., somebody with a classical “pagan” education.

Overall, we can conclude that the usage behind Paganus wasn’t about “rusticity,” but rather reflected the ethnikos and katholikos opposition: a multiplicity of “particularistic” faiths as opposed to the one universal “catholic” faith.

 

(Special thanks to my friend Edward Butler)

 

Bibliography

“Pagan.” Merriam-Webster. Accessed April 30, 2018. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pagan.

Tertullian. Hanover College History Department. Accessed April 30, 2018. https://history.hanover.edu/courses/excerpts/344tert.html.

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The True Olympos: Where the Gods Reside

O24.9Ganymedes

In Hellenism, Olympos is the radiant royal palace where the Gods dwell— a fortified hilltop with golden halls which lies just under the peaks of Mount Olympos— under the dominion of King Zeus. Because of misinformation and sophistry, many people are left ignorant and come to believe that the Mount Olympos that is said to be the home of the Gods is the same physical one in Greece which separates Macedonia from Thessaly. And while Olympos is indeed the abode of the Living Immortals, it is not the one in Greece on whose peak the ancients built altars on, knowing full well that it could therefore not be the literal abode of the Gods. This Olympos was just one of at least nineteen other peaks in the ancient world also called Olympos, from other parts of mainland Greece to further off Asia Minor, and all the way to islands like Cyprus and colonies in the far west. Hence it’s easy to infer that the Olympos in southern Macedonia merely was named after the real one due to its awe-inspiring height which towered over the world.

The reality of Olympos’ has already been uttered by the divine Homer, who in the Odyssey describes that Olympos is “never shaken by the wind, or wet with rain or blanketed by snow; A cloudless sky is spread above the mountain, white radiance all around” (Homer Odyssey, VI, 40) (Philostratus the Elder Imagines, 1. 26). This would not only exclude every mountain on earth, but it would also rule out every landmass too. Therefore, according to the divine Homer, while the Gods rule over our cosmos and all things inhabiting them, their abode isn’t a place in our mundane realm. (Aldridge 2016)

The Gods rain down their blessings upon this world and our lives in a plethora of ways constantly (Flavius Claudius Iulianus, III 399) (Aldridge 2016) yet are without needs, being in no way dependent on neither it nor us (Flavius Claudius Iulianus III, 309) (Sallustius, XV) (Aldridge 2016). If you fire an arrow at a storm cloud, you’re not going to hit King Zeus because Zeus isn’t the skies or clouds. If you whip a cup of wine at a wall, you’re not going to hurt Lord Dionysos because Dionysos isn’t wine. If you declare war on Lord Poseidon and proceed to stab at water with a sword and collect seashells, you’re not going to strike the earth shaker because Poseidon isn’t water (Sallustius, IV) (Aldridge 2016). These things may be dedicated to the Gods, and they may hold domain over and exercise their Activities through them, but the Gods are incorporeal and are in no way bounded to nor enslaved by them (Aldridge 2016) (Sallustius, IV) (Iamblichus De Mysteriis, I.17, 65-67) (Iamblichus De Mysteriis, V.23, 267) (Iamblichus De Mysteriis, VIII.3, 313).

Hence, we are lead into the true question: where is the real Olympos? To understand this, we can look to Homer again, who also said that King Helios bathes this celestial place with His radiant and benevolent light, (Homer Odyssey, XII, 380) which shines upon and perfects the Gods’ Ousia, or Being (Flavius Claudius Iulianus, III 372-373). In fact, the word Olympos itself derives from the primary verb λαμπο, “lampo,” meaning “to shine.”

There is only one place we know of where there are no winds, rains, snows nor clouds, but where the all-ruling sun is still present, bestowing radiance upon the Gods to perfect them, and this place is far beyond our mundane realm. It’s given notice by Agamemnon in his prayer to Zeus: “Zeus, most glorious, supreme, that dwells in the sky [aether], and rides upon the storm-cloud” (Homer Iliad, II, 412 ff).

Aether, the fifth element that is connected to the dodecahedron, is written by Plato to be what “God [Zeus-Helios, the Demiurge] used in the delineation of the universe” (Plato Timaeus, 55c). In short, the Demiurge used this element for binding the whole together and arranging the heavens. And that’s just where Olympos sits: the heavens.

And while we as mortals may never step into the golden halls of Olympos, the benevolent Gods will always be there, and they will know where this world, and the things in it, lie. For from their seats in Olympos the Gods can direct their divine gaze— which is more powerful than any light— towards us, even as far as our hidden thoughts.

 

Bibliography

Aldridge, Chris. “Where Is Olympus? The Greatest Mysteries.” Chris Aldridge’s Blog and Website. December 01, 2016. Accessed April 21, 2018. http://www.caldridge.net/2016/12/where-is-olympus-greatest-mysteries.html

Flavius Claudius Iulianus Augustus, and Wilmer Cave. Wright. The works of emperor Julian. London: Heinemann etc., 1962.

Homer. The Odyssey. Translated by Emily Wilson. New York, NY: W. W. Nortion & Company, 2018.

Iamblichus. De Mysteriis. Translated by Emma C. Clarke, John M. Dillon and Jackson P. Hershbell. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003.

Philostratus the Elder, Philostratus the Younger, and Callistratus. Imagines. Translated by Arthur Fairbanks. Cambridge (Mass.): Harvard University Press, 1979.

Plato, and Benjamin Jowett. The Complete Works of Plato. United States?: Akasha Pub., 2008.

Sallustius, “On the Gods and the Cosmos”, 4th Century ACE, accessed May 17, 2017, http://www.platonic-philosophy.org/files/Sallustius%20-%20On%20the%20Gods%20(Taylor).pdf

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Paganism is not “Nature-Centric”

A-wooden-sculpture-of-Lembitu-a-13th-century-Estonian-pre-Crusade-ruler-940x673

The definition of Paganism is often misconstrued as “nature-centric spirituality,” and correspondent to the term “Earth religion.” In truth, the concept of “nature worship” is by large recently-manufactured, being the product of the heavily Christian-entrenched Romantic period and the nature-centric movements which developed out of it; the same movements which also sprang out contemporary Druidism in the 19th century (Nicholas Roe 2010, 26), which, suffice to say, isn’t anything similar to the ancient Druids of Antiquity. This idea, which is so ingrained in contemporary conceptions of “nature worship,” had not existed in ancient Pagan religions, and is often perpetuated by typically the least academically-minded types of apparent “Pagans” whose practice is much more identifiable as New Age than anything. There are plenty of Pagan religions– including ones where there are divinities holding jurisdiction over the forces of nature– which aren’t concerned with the worship of nature, it often being seen as a hostile force as frequently as a beneficial one (Hrafnblod 2018, 23:56:58). Vulcanus may be a God of fire and its fertilizing aspects, but His cultus often centers around protecting the home from the ravages of flames (Plutarch, Quaestiones Romanes 47). To simply define Paganism as “nature-centric” is, ultimately, a misconception.

This isn’t to claim that Pagan traditions don’t have ceremonies or calendars which center around nature or natural cycles in some form. However, most religions do this to some extent. An agrarian society is going to have ceremonies centered around the fertility of the land; however, that doesn’t mean that they’re “earth-based,” no more so than any other religion is. While Kemeticists celebrate the flooding of the Nile River, for a long time Coptic Christianity celebrated this event as well (Febe Armanios 2015, 78). And while many Pagan religions observe holidays based around the cycles of the moon (e.g., Hellenism determining when to celebrate Hekate’s Deipnon), the religions of Islam, Judaism, and some sects of Christianity also do this to observe their holidays (James Shneer 2016, 4-5). Yet, these religions are undoubtedly not seen as Pagan religions.

Often this application of vague “nature-centric” spirituality to Paganism will lead people will assume that Pantheism, the belief that the divine is identical to the material universe (William Mander 2016), fits into the movement. This is problematic because the pantheistic conception of the divine is functionally identical to atheism, with the divine merely being “the passive manifestation of [material] reality” (Hrafnblod 2018, 13:07:34) rather than an entity with a distinct agency (Hrafnblod 2018, 13:07:34). This lack of agency obviously means it does nothing to inform any religious devotion, and because of that you cannot engage in do ut des with it. And while plenty of Pagan traditions do recognize the cosmos as something that’s divine in its essence, they also hold that other Gods and Greater Kinds exist seperately either externally from it or internally in it, thus aligning closer to Panentheism rather than Pantheism (Hrafnblod 2018, 13:07:34) (John Culp 2017).

Pagans do not seek the mediation of the Gods to worship nature because nature is not the objective of Pagan traditions. The unmistakable focus of Paganism is the worship of Pagan Gods who hold a distinct agency. Because of this it’s wiser to categorize Paganism using Michael York’s book Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion: an umbrella term for many different contemporary religions that are either inspired by (e.g., Wicca or Druidism) or revivalisms of (as in reconstructionist polytheism, e.g., Heathenry, Kemeticism, Hellenism, etc) the ancient cultures in the European-Mediterranean-Near East cultural basin that were displaced by Abrahamic religions (Michael York 2005).

Defining contemporary Paganism this way serves a purpose of distinction, allowing Paganism to be separated from the largely Protestant imperialist use of the term and distance Pagans from the appropriative New Age movement, in preference for religious expression that is more logical and consistent.

 

(Special thanks to Hrafnblod for inspiring this article)

 

Bibliography

Armanios, Febe. Coptic Christianity in Ottoman Egypt. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Culp, John. “Panentheism.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. June 03, 2017. Accessed March 06, 2018. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/panentheism/.

Dragicevich, Peter, Etain OCarroll, and Helena Smith. Lonely Planet Wales. Oakland, CA: Lonely Planet, 2014.

Hrafnblod, Reddit post “Interested But Unsure”, February 26, 2018 (23:56:58 UTC p.m. UTC), accessed March 3, 2018, https://www.reddit.com/r/pagan/comments/802rrb/interested_but_unsure/duvo8cr/

Hrafnblod, Reddit post “Interested But Unsure”, February 27, 2018 (13:07:34 UTC p.m. UTC), accessed March 3, 2018, https://www.reddit.com/r/pagan/comments/802rrb/interested_but_unsure/duwj1tu/

Hrafnblod, Reddit post “Interested But Unsure”, February 27, 2018 (11:43:22 UTC p.m. UTC), accessed March 3, 2018, https://www.reddit.com/r/pagan/comments/802rrb/interested_but_unsure/duwg8ke/

Hrafnblod. “On “Earth-Based Religions”.” Grennung Hund Heorþ. April 5, 2017. Accessed March 3, 2018.https://grennunghund.blog/2017/04/05/on-earth-based-religions/.

Hrafnblod. “Paganism Isn’t Dying; It’s (Finally) Maturing.” Grennung Hund Heorþ. May 21, 2017. Accessed March 3, 2018. https://grennunghund.blog/2017/05/21/paganism-isnt-dying-its-finally-maturing/.

Mander, William. “Pantheism.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. July 07, 2016. Accessed March 06, 2018. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pantheism/.

Oosthoek, K. Jan. “Romanticism and nature.” Environmental History Resources. August 1, 2015. Accessed March 03, 2018. https://www.eh-resources.org/romanticism-and-nature/.

Plutarch, Quaestiones Romanes, 47. via the Perseus Digital Library at Tufts University. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A2008.01.0212%3Asection%3D47

Shneer, James. The Jewish Calendar and the Torah 3rd Edition. S.l.: Lulu.com, 2016.

Roe, Nicholas. English Romantic Writers and the West Country. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

TheLettuceMan. “Paganism as a Religion.” Of Axe and Plough. June 18, 2017. Accessed March 3, 2018. https://thelettuceman.wordpress.com/2017/06/18/paganism-as-a-religion/.

York, Michael. Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion. New York: New York University Press, 2005.

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